Market Big Picture

So I took a panoramic photo of the market from on top of the Institute:Click on the picture to see the full resolution version. You can look into the market stalls and see what is going on.  You may also notice a car that is only half there (it was moving when I took one picture, and not in the next).

This is actually just part of a larger picture, which you can get here.  It includes our house and our neighbors across the street (see if you can find the chickens in their yard).

You can also get the full pre-cropped image here.

For those interested I stitched it together with the (largely automated) Hugin software, I highly recommend it.

Cristo Salva! (Easter)

So that brings us to Sunday. Tom and I got about 4-5 good hours of sleep before we were dressed and waiting at the Parish Center at 5am to proclaim that Jesus is Risen. It was a blustery 65F so everyone was bundled up in hats, scarves, ear warmers!, coats, pants, etc. against the arctic chill. Tom had a short-sleeved shirt and shorts on and wasn’t cold. At 5ish we, the Risen Lord carried by four youth, and our truck with a loud speaker on it started processing through the streets singing loudly and cheering Cristo Vive! Cristo Reina! Cristo Salva!

Every block the Sisters would announce, we are marching to the church with the Risen Lord come out of your homes and join us. Christ in Risen, no one should be sleeping! Some people came out and joined us, others just peeped out their windows at the noise. I think we did a reasonably good job waking everyone up at least. When we got to the Plaza in front of the church at 5:50am we met up with the three other groups that came from the three other corners of the neighborhood each with their own car with a loud speaker and statue: Mary, Angel Gabriel, John. So we all file into the Church with some others who had been woken up by the procession joining us also and it was FULL. Easter being an all-hands-on-deck kind of situation we had no less than 18 altar servers, possibly more than the Pope himself. The mass was pretty standard but lasted until 7:15 and I think during the Homily we were all really starting to drag a bit. No one had eaten yet that morning and the sound was bad, the priest was kind of mumbling, we got through it though. At the end of mass the priest proffered up possibly the most apathetic “Alleluia, Alleluia” I’d ever heard, we sang a song about Mary (?) and then we were out of there.

When we got back Tom and I made some pancakes for breakfast and the Sisters brought us over a plate of their Easter breakfast to share also.

It contained fruit cakes, cheesy cakes, smoked bacon, salami, chocolates and some raw painted eggs. (mmm…eggs aren’t refrigerated here) Now we’re resting and we’ll be heading over to the Hogar to have Easter lunch with the girls and watch them do their egg hunt. Happy Easter to everyone! Jesus Christ in Risen, Hallelujah!

Cristo Vive! (Vigil)

Saturday was pretty chill here. Tom worked on his class stuff and I “relaxed” which turned into baking about 5 dozen sugar cookies. Delish! In general I like Bolivian food but they do not know how to make cookies so we’re having an Easter cookie-binge. I also made plates of frosted cookies for the Sisters and the other volunteers. We also had to recover from our fasting on Friday. Seriously fasting is hard here. I ended up doing quite a bit of work on Friday and with the two hour Stations of the Cross and everything I was just run-down the next day. For lunch, the Sisters made us this yummy traditional dish from Cochabamba which consisted of shredded lacaoti (some type of squash, related to pumpkin) with tomatoes, peppers and some boiled potatoes with choclo (corn) on the side. It was really tasty but we supplemented some chicken for extra energy.

Saturday evening we had the Vigil at 7:30pm. It was somewhat standard, we started outside with a BIG fire. Sometimes my mind is silly and tries to apply U.S. standards to Bolivian situations. For example, before mass I was wondering, “Oh I wonder what they’ll make the fire in, maybe they have a fire pit or a little grill thing.” No, they just built this huge roaring bonfire right on the sidewalk in front of the church. I just had to chuckle at myself for even considering they had a fire pit. Also for mass we were all instructed to bring our own candles and water. So we lit our candles from the fire and all walk inside.

It was pretty much standing room only by the time we got in so we found a spot on the back wall. The church is really huge but it doesn’t have that many pews so we often run out of seating. I assume they just can’t afford to buy more. Anyway, luckily for those of us standing, they only did three of the introductory readings and responsorials before the Gospel. I think we did the first Genesis, Exodus, and one of the Isaiah’s. Three Sisters sang the responsorials but since we had no song books or lyrics it wasn’t very participatory. No churches in Bolivia have song books, I assume it’s a funding issue. I think this perhaps contributes to the lack of variety in the music as well as the simplicity of the music they play since people have to pick it all up just by listening. For seven months of listening, I’m doing pretty well though, I’d say I’ve deciphered about half the lyrics. Anyway so we continue with the Gospel and then the priest blesses our water and we hold our candles up again and renew our baptismal promises. Tom and I had a chuckle when the priest made a point to tell everyone to take the caps off their bottles before the blessing. So that God can get in? Who knew coke bottles were impervious to grace. Anyway though, there also weren’t any baptisms or confirmations. The Sisters don’t have any RCIA groups and the high school groups won’t be confirmed until October, because I assume that’s how long their religious education takes. So we continued right along and got out of there within 2 hours. But at the end of the mass, Madre Clara got up and started giving the instructions for the next morning. Apparently Easter Vigil does NOT get you out of going to mass the next day. She made that very clear and not only that, but everyone who was there was expected to be up before the sun the next day to greet the risen Lord! You are not allowed to sleep!

Good Friday (Viernes Santo)

Today we fasted by just eating bread and water all day. The beginning of the day was quiet with Tom working and me cleaning the house. The Good Friday service started at 6pm. The Confirmation class acted out the Passion for us (complete with fake blood which I believe was motor oil) and we adored the cross (with the crucified Jesus and everyone kissed Jesus). I liked it this way, I mean the whole importance of the cross is because JESUS was on it. The cross alone didn’t do anything. One interesting detail of the Triduum so far is that there are collection baskets everywhere. Last night at adoration there was a Sister holding a basket so everyone coming for adoration to donate on their way in. Today by every crucifix there was a altar boy holding a collection basket so everyone came up to adore the cross and then dropped their money in. Then once we returned to the church after the Stations of the Cross there were also altar boys with the baskets. The reason for this is that, like we have “Christmas and Easter Catholics” in the U.S., here they have “Good Friday Catholics.” People only come to mass for Good Friday and so that’s a prime time for collecting money. We saw so many families tonight that I’ve never seen at mass before (some of their kids I work with at the Guarderia so I would have noticed). Anyway you have to love them for even coming at all though. Before communion the Sister made an announcement that everyone was welcome to receive who had had their First Communion and who had CONFESSED. I’m sure that was aimed at those people that don’t come to mass. Confession actually is a really big thing here during Holy Week. At the other church in town the Priests have been hearing confession all week 8am-noon and Holy Thursday we had a priest in our chapel hearing confessions all day long with only breaks for meals. Apparently the line at the parish churches on Good Friday is endless as well. This is good to see since we’ve heard through the “The Break with Fr. Roderick” podcast that we listen to that in many places in Europe, Reconciliation almost doesn’t exist anymore.

Back to the service though, after communion we start the procession for the Stations of the Cross. First there’s our fourteen altar servers (all male). This is a special youth group that serve at every mass throughout the year but they only admit males. I think the Priests use it for recruitment. Then goes the flat bed truck where more youth act out every station. Then go a coffin with a dead Jesus in it and a crying Mary statue dressed in black, each carried by four people. Obviously four men had to carry Jesus and four women carried Mary because that’s how the culture is. This is followed by a band of trumpets, trombones and drums. Then the Sisters in their truck with the loud speaker, then all the people followed by a second car with a loud speaker. We walked through the streets praying the rosary, singing songs and stopping at different peoples’ houses where they had set up tables with flowers, statues, candles, etc. one for each station. We have done this same thing every Friday during Lent but usually mass starts at 7:00 and we’re done with our walking Stations by 8:30. Tonight however we start the walk at 7:30 and don’t return to the church until 9:30pm which got us back to our house right before 10pm. It was a marathon. One of the neat things about walking around slowly at night is it gives me a good chance to look into peoples’ lit-up houses and get a better idea about how people live here. Obviously I’m also reflecting on the mysteries, but it helps the time go by. Tonight when we returned to the church they carried the dead Jesus in and put him in a little cave they had built in one corner of the church. Then people went up and said prayers and kissed the cave and kissed Mary. Sorry I keep forgetting my camera so there are no pictures but I will try to remember it on Easter morning. For now, good night.

Holy Week (Semana Santa)

Holidays are hard. There’s a constant reminder that we’re not with family and things aren’t the way we’re used to them. But holidays are also a great chance for us to learn about the culture here and celebrate with our new community! So onward and upward we trudge.

I’m going to do my best to give you a play by play, so here we go. Tonight was Holy Thursday mass. Everyone is off of school and most are off of work. I spent the afternoon decorating the church with the Sisters and some youth. We put up a LOT of decorations. I mean, almost gratuitous. We had five different flower arrangements something like 10 20-foot-long cloths that we draped around things (all of which I personally ironed) and a very extravagant altar decorated for adoration. I clarified with the Sisters that yes, we have to take all this down tomorrow? And then put it up again on Saturday? And they laughed and said yes. Sigh, oh well. Because it’s the institution of the Eucharist and the Priesthood Holy Thursday is a big party here. We presented the priests with flowers and presents after mass. At lunch we had a special chocolate dessert and walnuts! It was the first time I’d seen walnuts here.

The music is also festive. This has kind of been a frustration for us all during Lent but I have since relaxed about it with my mantra “clap it out Laura, clap it out.” Basically, we clap along to EVERY song. It doesn’t matter how slow or serious the song is someone (or multiple people) choose a beat (not always the same) and start clapping. And then a Sister goes around and encourages everyone to keep clapping. In addition to this, we don’t really have contemplative songs at mass, most are upbeat accompanied by the electronic keyboard and we seem to be singing the same songs in Lent that we sing normally. We miss the quiet contemplation and we miss the liturgically-relevant songs. We also had the washing of the feet tonight. It was also a little more different that we’d have liked. Twelve young men from the confirmation class were chosen and dressed up as disciples in white and red robes, and seated on the altar. Then the priest washed their feet. It struck us more as a re-enactment than a liturgical experience. And I felt very offended that the Sisters and Priest couldn’t even be forward-thinking enough to include a female in with the disciples. I mean what message is that sending? We felt like it totally missed the whole idea that we are each called to wash the feet of our neighbors, to be servants of others. This is a primary part of Tom and I’s faith and a large reason we’re in Bolivia. But, I’m focusing on love not judgement this week :) . We are currently relaxing in our house, seeking reprieve from the music at the church. I’m going to return in a bit and finish out the adoration until midnight.

Adoration update: So it’s a custom here to travel around to 7 different churches for adoration. People who didn’t even go to the mass will do this adoration traveling. So they drive over, come in, kneel for about 3 minutes, get up and leave for another church. This gave adoration a bit more of a “train station” feel with so many comings and goings but around 11:30pm it calmed down. The other interesting thing is that although people rarely come to church as a family-unit, at adoration everyone was traveling as families. So that even at 11pm at night there were people walking in with their 2-year-olds for adoration. So the kids would file into the front row and play while the parents did their 3 minute prayer and then everyone left. At first I was shocked, but then I thought well at least the kids are getting exposed to the idea of doing adoration. Also, I understood better why we made such a fancy altar for adoration since so many visitors would be coming to see it. It’s almost like a form of hospitality.

More Bad News on Food Prices

For the last week or so Bolivia has been rocked by massive strikes from groups as diverse as teachers, doctors, and miners. Because of the skyrocketing costs of food, everyone is trying to get paid more in their job to make up the difference. There’s all sorts of crazy Bolivian economic policies that I could talk (and/or vent) about that are based on shaky economics, they don’t really have much to do with the unrest…they just pile on to the problems.
Even if Bolivia had the best possible economic policies (I’m not going to say I or anybody else knows what those would be), it still would be having a lot of the same issues, just because of the huge increase in food prices. The World Bank just released numbers saying the the food prices have risen 36% over this time last year! When you’re already working 10hrs/day, and spending up to half your money on food (the rest probably on housing), there’s simply no room in the budget for food prices changing like that. Thus you need more money to just get by. So, you go on strike to try to get that. When you have lots of different groups all on strike at the same time, then it starts to get crazy. There have been road blocks on all the major roads, miners exploding dynamite in La Paz, and doctors shutting down the clinics and hospitals.

The price increases aren’t just affecting the people of Bolivia either, but these prices are going to affect anyone who really has to watch the price of the food that they eat. I know that when I was living in St. Louis, this didn’t include us…we were blessed enough that we didn’t have to think about if we could afford the stuff on our shopping list, but I know there were people even living in our old neighborhood that did have to think about things like that.

So what can you do to help?
1) Eat less meat. Raising livestock (like cattle) takes a lot of food to feed the animals (more than 50 times what we get out of them), if there wasn’t the demand for so many animals to eat, more of that feed could go to feeding people. I’m not suggesting being a vegetarian, I don’t think I could do that unless I was forced to…but if everyone cut down their meat consumption by half, that would make a huge difference. Try to start thinking of meat as more of a reward or food for celebrations than something you eat on a daily basis.
2) Drive Less. (or get a more efficient car) A huge part of food prices is the transportation of the food. Thus the price of gasoline is making an impact on the current food price crisis. If we can start being more efficient with our driving habits, we can reduce some of this pressure on food prices (and do a whole bunch of other good things too).

Six Months

We are now well past the mark for the longest either of us have been away from family or from the U.S.  From here on out is uncharted territory.  Mentally and emotionally I think we’re back up to a higher point than the 3-month mark.  The language comes easier everyday and not every sentence has to be thought-out thoroughly before said.  We feel like we have some community here with the Sisters, the other volunteers, and the girls at the Hogar.  We are slowly making acquaintances with co-workers and some young people we’ve met through the Sisters.  Making real ‘friends’ is very difficult though.  Besides work and grocery shopping, we don’t really leave the compound.

We are feeling like we’re ‘missing’ more back home as time goes on as well.  Babies are born, friends get engaged, and we’re missing a big wedding season this summer.  But also during that time we have been gaining a better understanding of people’s lives in Montero by being here with them day in and day out.  It’s a very different feeling than a 2-week or even 2-month service trip.  We are trying to approach it differently also.  Though we do often think about our eventual return to the states, we are attempting to make this our life while we’re here.  Not that we paused our life to come down here for an experience, but that this IS us and we have nothing waiting for us at home except visits to family and friends.

What has changed over these past 6 months?  Well, we achieved our one-year residency visa (finally finished the process on Feb. 9 when we got our government identity cards).  We can successfully maneuver the transportation systems to get ourselves just about anywhere and have forgotten what’s it’s like to have a car.  We have a daily and weekly schedule so that we know approximately what is going on most of the time.  We have switched to brushing our teeth with the tap water although we still drink bottled water.  We feel very comfortable and at-home in our house here.  We are accustomed to rice at every meal and eating with tablespoons out of wide and low bowls.  (The teaspoon-sized spoon we use in the US isn’t commonly used here. Also bowl in spanish is literally “deep plate” and that’s what they look like.) We are also accustomed to our breakfast of bread and our two-part lunch of soup and a second.  We have a wide range of foods that we’ve learned how to cook here, and are getting by just fine in our small and scantily-stocked kitchen.   We’ve become accustomed to always having a bottle of sprite, coca-cola and peach juice in our fridge, and to always having a dozen bananas on our counter.  It is no longer a novelty to look up and see a lizard crawling on the wall and we really don’t miss our TV that much.  And interestingly, it has not been that hard to get used to owning nothing but the things we brought down here with us and living our lives in service to the people around us, receiving nothing in return but our food.  It’s just an accepted fact of daily life now.

I will say we’re used to constantly having dogs around, but we’re still not particularly pleased about it.  We understand it’s necessary for safety though.  And we’re even accustomed to seeing stray dogs wander through church during mass, although it does still make me chuckle, particularly the one that got in line on Ash Wednesday for ashes.  I have now, 100%, become a facebook stalker as that is how I try to stay updated with all the happenings back home. And, it’s always an amazing reminder of small the world really is when I can call my mom on her cellphone from my computer here in Montero.

Things we still miss from the US include food, good live music, comfortable chairs/couches, fast Internet, and indoor climate control.    But as we are learning here, those are things you can live without.

Bolivian Market

As I’ve been meaning to do for months, I finally got the chance to go out and take a video while walking through the market.  Here it is for your viewing pleasure.

Some things you may notice are the chickens sitting under the netting, and the large quantities of potatoes and pasta sitting in bags.

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